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The Truman Show

The Truman Show is a 1998 fantasy comedy-drama film directed by Peter Weir and written by Andrew Niccol. The cast includes Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, as well as Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Ed Harris and Natascha McElhone. The film chronicles the life of a man who does not know that he is living in a constructed reality soap opera, televised 24/7 to billions across the globe.

The genesis of The Truman Show started out as a spec script by Niccol. The original draft was more in tone of a science fiction thriller, with the story set in New York City. Scott Rudin purchased the script, and instantly set the project up at Paramount Pictures. Brian de Palma was in contention to direct before Weir took over, managing to make the film for $60 million against the estimated $80 million budget. Niccol rewrote the script simultaneously as the filmmakers were waiting for Carrey's schedule to be open for filming. The majority of filming took place at Seaside, Florida, a master-planned community located in the Florida Panhandle.

The film was a financial and critical success, and Paramount's marketing approach for the film was similar to Forrest Gump. The Truman Show earned numerous nominations at the 71st Academy Awards, 56th Golden Globe Awards, 52nd British Academy Film Awards and The Saturn Awards. The Truman Show has been analyzed as a thesis on Christianity, simulated reality and existentialism. Many have noted the film predicted the rise of reality television.


The film is set in a hypothetical world, called Seahaven, where an entire town is dedicated to a continually running television show. All of the participants are actors, except for Truman Burbank, who is unaware that he lives in a constructed reality for the entertainment of those outside. Central characters simulate friendship to Truman, and in the case of his "wife", bury their real feelings of disgust with the whole concept of the show.

Truman was chosen out of five unwanted babies to be a TV star, whereupon film producer Christof ordered built a gigantic studio to encapsulate Seahaven, the artificial town in which Truman lives, believing himself to be part of a genuine neighborhood. To prevent Truman from trying to escape, his father is "killed" in a staged boating incident so as to make Truman afraid of water. Because Seahaven appears to be an island, this fear removes Truman's every chance of escape. Despite Truman's staged relationship with his wife Meryl, he desires to meet and perhaps court the scene-extra called Sylvia, who was removed from the cast by the producers while trying to explain to Truman the true nature of his life. In the thirtieth year of his life, Truman begins to realize the unrealistic routine of his world and tries to escape Seahaven.

Along his path to truth and escape Truman encounters obstacles placed in his way, including choreographed traffic jams, the inability to arrange any trips, buying a bus ticket out of town where the bus suddenly breaks down, a long bridge to cross, a non-existent nuclear meltdown, and an artificially created hurricane on the "ocean". He finally reaches the edge of the constructed reality and exits via a door in the wall, cheered on by an audience of millions as he embarks on an unscripted and hopeful future. Sylvia is seen rushing out of her apartment. Executives cancel the show while audiences everywhere change the channel.


  • Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank: Chosen out of five unwanted pregnancies and the first child to be legally adopted by a corporation. He is unaware that his daily life is broadcast 24-hours-a-day around the world. He has a job in insurance business and a lovely wife, but eventually notices the environment is not what it usually seems. Robin Williams was considered for the role, but Weir cast Carrey after seeing him in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, because his performance reminded him of Charlie Chaplin. Carrey took the opportunity to proclaim himself as a dramatic actor, rather than being typecast in comedic roles. Carrey, who is normally paid $20 million per film, agreed to do The Truman Show for $12 million. Carrey and Weir initially found working together on set difficult (Carrey's contract gave him the power to demand rewrites), but Weir was impressed with Carrey's improvisational skills, and the two became more interactive. The scene wherein Truman declares "this planet Trumania of the Burbank galaxy" to the bathroom mirror was Carrey's idea.
  • Laura Linney as Hannah Gill / Meryl Burbank: Truman's "wife", who holds a profession as a nurse at the local hospital. She daily expresses product placements, one of the many occurrences making Truman curious about his life. Her role is essentially to act the part of Truman's wife and ultimately to have a child by him, despite her reluctance to accomplish either. Linney explained that, "she was a child actress who never made it, and now she's really ambitious. Mostly she's into negotiating her contract. Every time she sleeps with Truman she gets an extra $10,000". Linney heavily studied Sears catalogs from the 1950s to develop her character's poses.
  • Noah Emmerich as Louis Coltrane / Marlon: Truman's best friend since early childhood. Marlon is a vending machine operator for the company Goodies, who promises Truman he would never lie to him, despite the latest events in Truman's life. Emmerich felt, "My character is in a lot of pain. He feels really guilty about deceiving Truman. He's had a serious drug addiction for many years. Been in and out of rehab."
  • Ed Harris as Christof: The creator of The Truman Show. Christof remains dedicated to the program at all costs, often overseeing and directing its course in person (rather than through aides), but at the climax/resolution spoke to Truman over a loudspeaker, revealing the nature of Truman's situation. Dennis Hopper was originally cast in the role, but he left in April 1997 (during filming) because of "creative differences". Harris was a last minute replacement. A number of other actors had turned down the role after Hopper's departure. Harris had an idea of making Christof a hunchback, but Weir did not like the idea.
  • Natascha McElhone as Sylvia / Lauren Garland: A scene-extra who became romantically involved with Truman, and tried to reveal to him the truth about his life, but was arrested and thrown out of the show before she could tell him. Thereafter, she protests against The Truman Show, urging Christof to release its lead.
  • Brian Delate as Walter Moore / Kirk: An actor who portrays Truman's father. When Truman was a boy, he was killed off to instill a fear of water in his son that would prevent Truman from leaving the set; however, he sneaks back into the show when Truman is an adult, whereupon the writers are forced to write a plot in which Kirk had not drowned, but had suffered from amnesia.
  • Holland Taylor as Alanis Montclair / Angela Burbank: Truman's mother. Christof orders that she attempt to convince Truman to have children.

Harry Shearer cameos as Mike Michaelson, news anchor host of TruTalk, an affiliate of The Truman Show. Paul Giamatti, who was at the time a publicly unknown actor, plays a control room director. Peter Krause portrays Truman's boss at his office.


The genesis of The Truman Show started out as a spec script by Andrew Niccol. The original draft was more in tone of a science fiction thriller, with the story set in New York City. Niccol stated, "I think everyone questions the authenticity of their lives at certain points. It's like when kids ask if they're adopted." In the fall of 1993, producer Scott Rudin purchased the script for slightly above $1 million. Paramount Pictures instantly agreed to distribute. Part of the deal called for Niccol to have his directing debut, though Paramount felt the estimated $80 million budget would be too high for him. In addition, Paramount wanted to go with an A-list director, paying Niccol extra money "to step aside". Brian de Palma was under negotiations to direct before he left United Talent Agency in March 1994. Directors being considered after de Palma's departure included Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Barry Sonnenfeld and Steven Spielberg before Peter Weir signed on in early-1995, following a recommendation of Niccol.

Paramount was cautious about The Truman Show, which they dubbed "the most expensive art film ever made" because of its $60 million budget. They wanted the film to be funnier and less dramatic. Weir also shared this vision, feeling that Niccol's script was too dark, and declaring "where he [Niccol] had it depressing, I could make it light. It could convince audiences they could watch a show in this scope 24/7." Niccol wrote sixteen drafts of the script before Weir considered the script ready for filming. Later on in 1995, Jim Carrey signed to star, but due to commitments with The Cable Guy and Liar Liar, he would not be ready to start filming for at least another year. Weir felt Carrey was perfect for the role and opted to wait for another year rather than recast the role. Niccol rewrote the script twelve times, while Weir created a fictionalized book about the show's history. He envisioned backstories for the characters, and encouraged actors to do the same.

Weir scouted locations in Eastern Florida, but was unsatisfied with the landscapes. Sound stages at Universal Studios were reserved for the story's setting of Seahaven before Weir's wife introduced him to Seaside, Florida, a master-planned community located in the Florida Panhandle. Pre-production offices were instantly opened in Seaside, where the majority of filming took place. Other scenes were shot at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, California. Norman Rockwell paintings and 1960s postcards were used as inspiration for the film's design. Weir, Peter Biziou and Dennis Gassner researched surveillance techniques for certain shots.

Weir saw The Truman Show as a chance to utilize the long-abandoned silent-era cinematic technique of vignetting the edges of the frame to emphasize the center. The overall look was influenced by television images, particularly commercials: many shots have characters leaning into the lens with their eyeballs wide open and the interior scenes are heavily lit, because Weir wanted to remind that "in this world, everything was for sale". Those involved in visual effects work found the film somewhat difficult to make, because 1997 was the year many visual effects companies were trying to convert to computer-generated imagery. CGI was used to create the upper halves of some of the larger buildings in the film's downtown set. Craig Barron, one of the effects supervisors, said that these digital models did not have to look as detailed and weathered as they normally would in a film because of the artificial look of the entire town, although they did imitate slight blemishes found in the physical buildings.


The original music for The Truman Show was composed by Burkhard Dallwitz. Dallwitz was hired after Peter Weir received a tape of his work while in Australia for the post-production. Some parts of the soundtrack were composed by Philip Glass, including four pieces which appeared in his previous works (Powaqqatsi, Anima Mundi, and Mishima). Glass also appears very briefly in the film as one of the in-studio composer/performers.

Also featured in the film are Frederic Chopin's "Romance-Larghetto" from his first piano concerto, performed by Artur Rubinstein, Wojciech Kilar's "Father Kolbe's Preaching" performed by the Orchestra Philharmonique National de Pologne and "20th Century Boy" performed by Rockabilly band The Big Six.


Religious analogy

Benson Parkinson of Association for Mormon Letters noted that Christof represented Jesus as an "off-Christ" (Christ-off), or Antichrist. Parkinson further explained that Christof can be translated into Satan as megalomaniacal Hollywood producer. Truman and Sylvia are the only characters who use their real names on the show, which is to say their real names are also stage names. Truman's search of evidence for the truth can be compared to a common man's opinion of life. Christof is willing to manipulate and use Truman for commercial gain, just like producers and directors are sometimes to use up their creative people, then discard them. A conversation between Truman and Marlon at the bridge was compared to one with Moses and God in the Bible.


In 2008, Popular Mechanics named The Truman Show as one of the ten most prophetic science fiction films. Journalist Erik Sofge argued the story reflects the falseness of reality television. "Truman simply lives, and the show's popularity is its straightforward voyeurism. And, like Big Brother, Survivor, and every other reality show on the air, none of his environment is actually real." While he deemed Big Brother debuting a year after the film's release an eerie coincidence, he also compared it to the 2003 program The Joe Schmo Show; "Unlike Truman, Matt Gould could see the cameras, but all of the other contestants were paid actors, playing the part of various reality-show stereotypes. While Matt eventually got all of the prizes in the rigged contest, the show's central running joke was in the same existential ballpark as The Truman Show. Weir declared, "There has always been this question: is the audience getting dumber? Or are we film- makers patronizing them? Is this what they want? Or is this what we're giving them? But the public went to my film in large numbers. And that has to be encouraging."

Ronald Bishop of Sage Journals Online felt The Truman Show showcased the power of the media. Truman's life inspires audiences around the world, meaning their lives are controlled by his. Bishop commented, "In the end, the power of the media is affirmed rather than challenged. In the spirit of Antonio Gramsci's concept of hegemony, these films and television programs co-opt our enchantment (and disenchantment) with the media and sell it back to us.

Psychological interpretation

An essay published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis analyzed Truman as a prototypical adolescent at the beginning of the movie. He feels trapped into a familial and social world to which he tries to conform while being unable to entirely identify with it, believing that he has no other choice (other than through the fantasy of fleeing to a deserted island). Eventually, Truman gains sufficient awareness of his condition to 'leave home' – developing a more mature and authentic identity as a man, leaving his child-self behind and becoming a True-man.


Parallels can be drawn from Thomas More's Utopia where he describes an island with only one way entrance and one exit. Also, only those who belonged to this island knew how to navigate their way through the treacherous opening safely and unharmed. This is similar to the The Truman Show because there are limited entryways into the world that Truman knows. Truman does not belong to this utopia which he has been implanted in and childhood trauma rendered him frightened at the prospect of ever leaving this small community. Utopian models of the past tended to be full of like minded individuals who had a lot in common, which is comparable to More's Utopia and real-life groups like the Shakers and the Oneida Community. It is clear that everyone in Truman's world is like minded in the fact that they were all working to keep him oblivious to what was really going on. It is important to notice the 1950s suburban "picket fence" appearance of the show's set, reminiscent of The "American Dream" of the 1950s when everyone who worked hard could enjoy their own home and have a family. The "American Dream" suburban concept in Truman's world serves two functions; keeping him happy and ignorant.



The Truman Show's original theatrical release date was August 8, 1998, but Paramount Pictures considered pushing it back to around Christmas. NBC purchased broadcast rights in December 1997, roughly eight months before the film's release. In March 2000, Turner Broadcasting System purchased the rights and now often airs the film on TBS.

Paramount's marketing approach for The Truman Show was similar to the one employed for Forrest Gump. The film opened in the United States on June 5, 1998, earning $31,542,121 in its opening weekend. It eventually became a financial success, grossing $125,618,201 in North America, and $138,500,000 in foreign countries, coming at a total of $264,118,201. The Truman Show was the eleventh-highest grossing film of 1998.

Based on 83 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, The Truman Show received an average 95% overall approval rating; with a unanimous and highly rare 100% with 17 critics in Rotten Tomatoes' "Top Critics" poll. By comparison, Metacritic gave the film an average score of 90 from the 30 reviews collected. Roger Ebert felt the film had a right balance of comedy and drama, comparing it to Forrest Gump. He was also impressed with Jim Carrey's dramatic performance. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The Truman Show is emotionally involving without losing the ability to raise sharp satiric questions as well as get numerous laughs. The rare film that is disturbing despite working beautifully within standard industry norms.

James Berardinelli liked the film's approach of "not being the casual summer blockbuster with special effects", and compared Carrey's performance to Tom Hanks and James Stewart. Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader wrote, "Undeniably provocative and reasonably entertaining, The Truman Show is one of those high-concept movies whose concept is both clever and dumb. Tom Meek of Film Threat said the film was not funny enough, but found "something rewarding in its quirky demeanor". Fernando F. Croce of Slant Magazine described The Truman Show as highly "overrated, definitely not the-movie-of-the-decade as so many have claimed".


At the 71st Academy Awards, The Truman Show was nominated for three categories, but failed to convert any of them into awards. Peter Weir received the nomination for Best Director while Ed Harris was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Andrew Niccol was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Many believed Carrey would be nominated for Best Actor, but this did not occur. In contrast, the film was an outstanding success at the 56th Golden Globe Awards. Carrey (Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama), Harris (Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture) and Burkhard Dallwitz and Philip Glass (Best Original Score) all won their respective categories. In addition The Truman Show received the nomination for Best Motion Picture - Drama, while Weir (Director - Motion Picture) and Niccol (Screenplay) received nominations.

At the 52nd British Academy Film Awards, Weir (Direction), Niccol (Original Screenplay) and Dennis Gassner (Production Design) received awards. In addition, the film was nominated for Best Film and Best Visual Effects. Harris was nominated for Best Supporting Actor while Peter Biziou was nominated for Best Cinematography. The Truman Show was a success at The Saturn Awards with Best Fantasy Film and Best Writing (Niccol). Carrey (Best Actor), Harris (Best Supporting Actor) and Weir (Direction) received nominations. The film won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.

"The Truman Show Delusion"

Joel Gold, director of psychiatrics at the Bellevue Hospital Center, revealed that by 2008, he had met five patients with schizophrenia (and heard of another twelve) who believed their lives were reality television shows. Gold named the syndrome after the film, and attributed the particular delusion to a world that had become publicity hungry. Gold stated some patients were rendered happy by their disease, while "others were tormented. One came to New York to check whether the World Trade Center had actually fallen – believing 9/11 to be an elaborate plot twist in his personal storyline. Another came to climb the Statue of Liberty, believing that he'd be reunited with his high-school girlfriend at the top, and finally be released from the 'show'.


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